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Scottish judges to rule on posthumous Lockerbie appeal

A total of 270 people were killed in what remains Britain's worst terrorist atrocity.[Getty]

Date of publication: 15 January, 2021

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The family of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, have battled for years to bring the case and clear his name.

 

Five judges at Scotland's highest court of criminal appeal are on Friday expected to rule on a posthumous challenge by the family of the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

The family of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, have battled for years to bring the case and clear his name.

Should they do so, the judgement could have wide-ranging diplomatic and political ramifications, and put Scottish justice in the dock.

In November last year, judges at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh heard three days of arguments from the Megrahi family's lawyers that his conviction was unsafe.

Megrahi was jailed in 2001 and sentenced to 27 years in prison for the mass murder of 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over the Scottish town on December 21, 1988.

A total of 259 passengers and crew, and 11 others on the ground were killed in what remains Britain's worst terrorist atrocity.

The Libyan regime of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi officially acknowledged responsibility in 2003, and paid $2.7 billion in compensation to families of the victims.

But doubts have swirled for decades about Megrahi's conviction, including from families of some of the victims.

Identification evidence

Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. 

He returned to Tripoli a hero and died in 2012, still protesting his innocence.

In March last year, a Scottish independent criminal cases review body said a miscarriage of justice may have occurred on the grounds of "unreasonable verdict" and non-disclosure of evidence to the defence.

Central to his family's case was the testimony of Tony Gauci, a Maltese shopkeeper, who identified Megrahi as the man who bought clothes found in the suitcase that contained the bomb.

Lawyers argued Gauci's eye-witness evidence should have been discounted and was "highly prejudicial" because he had earlier seen a photograph of Megrahi as a suspect in a newspaper.

They submitted Gauci was motivated by reward money, that there was no proof Megrahi bought the clothing, and that dates of his supposed visit to Malta did not fit the timeline.

The suitcase was loaded onto a plane from Malta to Germany, then transferred to the ill-fated flight that left London Heathrow bound for New York.

The government's case was that Megrahi used a false passport to travel to the Mediterranean island, and that Gauci did not receive any remuneration.

Crown lawyers said the three judges who tried and convicted Megrahi were entitled to infer he was involved, and the fake document was part of a "significant chapter of evidence" supporting his involvement.

New indictment

The family's legal team has pushed the British authorities to declassify documents that are said to allege that Iran used a Syria-based Palestinian proxy to build the bomb that downed the Boeing 747.

The documents are thought to allege a Jordanian intelligence agent within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) built the bomb.

The PFLP-GC has been designated a terrorist group by several countries, including Britain and the United States.

On the 32nd anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing in December, the US Justice Department announced a new indictment against another former member of Gaddafi's intelligence services.

It alleges that Abu Agila Mohammad Masud assembled and programmed the bomb.

The investigation was relaunched in 2016 when Washington learned of Masud's arrest after Gaddafi's ouster and death in 2011, and his reported confession of involvement to the new Libyan regime in 2012.

Investigators also relied on Masud's travel records, including a flight from the Libyan capital Tripoli to Malta.

Masud is currently being held in Libya for his alleged involvement in a 1986 attack on a Berlin nightclub that killed two US soldiers and a Turkish citizen.

Tripoli in 2004 also agreed to compensate the families of the victims of that attack.

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